Who's In It: Patrick Fabian, Ashley Bell, Iris Bahr, Louis Herthum, Caleb Landry Jones, Tony Bentley, Shanna Forrestall, Logan Craig Reid
The Basics: Charismatic preacher-huckster Reverend Cotton Marcus (Patrick Fabian) has spent his life giving faithful church-goers the Bible-thumping dog-and-pony show their desperate souls crave, supplementing his earnings by performing exorcisms on the side for cash. Now, Rev. Marcus's sliver of a conscience has led him to decide to reveal the practice of exorcism for the dangerous sham it is. And so, with a documentary crew in tow, he heads to a secluded farm in rural Louisiana to perform one last exorcism on a teenage girl who may or may not have the devil inside her.
What's The Deal: This low budget faux-documentary horror pic, produced by Eli Roth, is cleverly conceived, features strong central performances, and builds an effective slow-simmering tension that'll have you squirming in your seat in anticipation of the scares that surely do come. Its central character, Rev. Cotton Marcus, is a fascinating piece of work -- a glib, cocky, and shamelessly faithless man of the cloth more akin to a sideshow barker or a preening magician -- made utterly watchable by Patrick Fabian's deft performance. In truth, The Last Exorcism does a lot right leading up to its big finale... which is where, unfortunately, it gets everything wrong. Last-act shenanigans devolve into silly theatrics, the camerawork cribs from the Blair Witch playbook, and noticing those quibbles gets you thinking more and more about the film's other nagging issues that you'd happily overlooked up to that point in the service of being freaked out. Is it effectively scary, for the most part? Yes. Will it keep you up at night like Paranormal Activity did? No.
A Few Of The Nagging Inconsistencies: It's presented primarily as "found footage," complete with shaky hand-held camera work and mostly sequential in-camera chronology, but the film never explains just how this found footage was found, edited, and most distracting of all, scored, into the final product. Maybe that's just the over-analytical nerd in me complaining. More bothersome is the fact that after establishing a sense of realistic dread with its documentary style, no-name cast, practical effects, and an effectively ambiguous series of events, the film resorts to a clichéd and over-the-top ending that negates all of the effective ambiguity that made the middle third of the film so nail-bitingly tense.
What The Last Exorcism Really Thinks Of Organized Religion: The topic of faith is filtered through the film's main character, Rev. Marcus. "If you believe in God, you must believe in the Devil," we're told at the start; since Marcus doesn't believe in the latter, he must not believe in the former. By the end of the film he learns how very wrong he was and desperately atones for his sins. (Spoiler alert: Of course, the crazy country folk are the ones who turn out to be right, which explains the film's real position on the matter.)
To PETA Members, Animal Lovers, And The Squeamish: Close your eyes when the cute little white kitty cat comes on screen. Red on white makes for such long-lasting mental images.